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The 7 Dos and Don’ts of Great Screen Printed Apparel

If you’ve decided to go with screen printing to create your custom gear, prepare yourself for some eye-popping designs! Utilizing stencils (the eponymous ‘screens’ in the process name) to apply various colors of ink to the printing surface, screen printing is great if you are printing on dark shirts, specialty products, or want your design’s colors to look bright and vibrant. To take advantage of all the great perks that screenprinting offers, we’ve created a list of Dos and Don’ts to get the perfect print.

The 7 Dos and Don’ts of Great Screen Printed Apparel

DO use the highest-quality art and photos you can

Our Design Lab lets you add your own art and photos to your custom product, which is a great way to personalize your design. To get the cleanest print to highlight your personal art and photos, make sure that you use the highest-resolution images you can. Small, low-resolution images are more likely to result in blurry prints or prints that have been adjusted to make up for lack of clear details. If you have art created specifically for print in a vector format, uploading it as an EPS, PDF, or AI file can help our team recreate exactly what you want. Read more about resolution and the best practices for providing art here.

The difference between using an image with low resolution versus using high resolution can make your screen print go from blurry to eye-catching. If you are printing photos, always try to use the highest resolution image you can.

DON’T forget your product constraints

While our Design Lab features handy dandy print constraint guidelines to ensure that your design will print correctly unimpeded by seams, zippers, or stitching, it is a good idea to be aware of the sizes of your items and how your design will look printed on them. If you have a wide range of sizes, details that can print and stay visible on adult sizes may be lost or simplified for print on youth or smaller sizes. Consider sticking to large, bold, less complex art and text if you are printing on small sizes or items like hats, koozies, or waterbottles. If you are trying to use the same art across a range of products (like matching t-shirts, infant onesies, and personal can coolers), this is a good tip to keep in mind.

Printing your design across a range of sizes may require it to be printed on a smaller screen, which could potentially lose smaller details if it includes complicated artwork or small text.

DO make sure your design colors work with your product color

On a plain white tee, almost every color is eye-catching. However, there are lighter ink colors that won’t be as visible once printed—even if they appear fine on your screen. Likewise, ink colors like navy, plum, or charcoal will be harder to see on dark fabric. There are also very clear-cut low contrast combos such as printing pink ink on a pink shirt that should be avoided if you want your design to pop. Check out some examples here, and if you want to double-check if your colors will have good contrast on your merch, our team would be happy to check for you.

The shirt on the left displays ink-on-shirt contrast issues, while the shirt on the right shows why it is important to have good contrast with your ink colors.

DON’T forget your ink constraints

Screenprinting offers a variety of ink types and techniques, like glow-in-the-dark ink, metallic ink, and even glitter ink. These can add additional impact to your design and make an impression, but they require more finesse with their application. Keep this in mind with your design if you are planning on using any of these ink types, as smaller details and text may need to be simplified.

You can screen print with specialty inks, but remember that each has its own print constraints.

DO keep in mind that colors look different on your phone or computer screen than in print

While our printers can mix hundreds of ink colors and print the rainbow, there are some colors that don’t translate as well and can’t be replicated. While neon inks are available, some extremely saturated, vibrant shades of blue and purple do not have an ink equivalent. We always try to find the closest match, but if you provide us with the Pantone matches for your design we’ll make sure we use those so there aren’t any surprises!

Our Design Lab has a wide selection of colors to choose from, but if you have a specific color in mind we can use a Pantone match.

DON’T get lost in the small details; keep in mind the big picture

It can be tempting to create designs with small text or art elements. Due to the nature of screenprinting, inks can bleed slightly upon print and fill or blur these details. If you have a design with smaller details that you want to ensure prints well, make sure your design is printing at a larger size or on a product with the proper constraints. If you are using a font with decorative elements or a serif font, consider swapping with a simple sans serif font like Myriad or Calibri. Want your text to be visible from a distance? Size it up!

This image has many details and small text which may not print well. Consider simplifying designs for more impact and better print.

DO remember that not all products are created equal

We carry hundreds of products that can be customized with screenprinting, from t-shirts to tote bags to sunglasses. Each of these products is created from different materials, and provide a different print surface for ink. Based on the product you choose, the material may require your design to be simplified or use fewer ink colors. While many t-shirts and products with similar material can recreate art of photos and images with gradients, athletic gear and those sunglasses would require all of these designs to be simplified.

Hats, bags, sunglasses, water bottles…we’re here to help you create a bold design that prints well across every item you want!

Screen printing your own custom gear is an exciting moment to celebrate your group, event, or business. Following these handy tips will ensure that your awesome design will come out looking great—and if you’re ever in doubt, one of our team members is happy to check your design before it prints and make sure the end result is wow-worthy.


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Kendra is the Copywriting Support at Custom Ink. She has a background in art but she loves writing, so she finds a compromise between the two by creating comics in her free time.

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    • Nancy Roth

      Ohmygoodness how our family loves the t shirts I have designed and had you print!!!
      And they have all endured many years of constant washing and wearing…
      You are the greatest!! As an artist and former silk screener myself… I have only praise for you all and your work… I am looking forward to designing my next family reunion t-shirts to add to our large collections.

    • Lowell

      What is the cost per shirt for purple with white print front only. For72 shirts and 144 shirts.

    • Kendra Kountz

      Hi Lowell! Pricing is determined by a few factors like style, quantity, and design. We’d be happy to connect you with a member of our sales team for a personalized quote. Give us a call directly at 800-293-4232 for more information!

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